By and large, what I observed at last weekend’s state football tournament was a slice of reality – of how difficult it is to properly market such an event, and thanks to our economy and culture…how easy it’s become to just stay away and watch it on Spectrum.
Canton, OH – Whether they like it or not, television has taken the shine – the flavor – from what some once called the crown jewel of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s crown jewel…the annual state football tournament.
Because, the fact is that people just don’t go in person to see it anymore, choosing instead, to stay home and watch it from their living room without having to drive, park, and get fleeced ($$$) with the threat of identity theft if you use your credit card to buy a ticket.
For you see, despite the Ohio legislature mandating earlier this year that individual high schools must provide a cash alternative to fans wanting to pay at the door for regular season games, the state tournaments are credit card only, a concession to the Hometown Ticketing group that provides the service. And I suspect, that Hometown Ticketing is also a lucrative corporate sponsor. That’s the way things work in our modern, progressive, optimistic world.
I’ll give you some examples of the age-old example of whether a tree actually falls in the forest…if there’s no one there to hear it hit the ground.
In the Division VI title game between Versailles and Kirtland, the announced attendance was 3,959 people. It’s true that the game was played on a Friday morning at 10:30 am, and that a lot of people probably had to work. And 10 in the morning is a HORRID time to to play football…which tells you that the OHSAA only has Tom Benson Stadium for the better part of three days, and renting it for Sunday to provide more convenient start times is a financial concession.
But there was hardly a question in the minds of fans asked from both Versailles and Kirtland…that if the game had been played in Versailles or Kirtland more than 3,900 people would have shown up to see it at 7:00 on a Friday night.
The proof of that is the attendance at Thursday night’s opening game between Akron Hoban and neighboring Massillon. It drew 14,000…because Massillon is less than five miles away, Akron is a half hour away, and the game started after everyone got home from work. In truth, the OHSAA really can’t do much about that. There’s only so many hours in the day, and it’s ALWAYS been that way.
But Saturday’s Division VII title game between Marion Local and another neighboring school, Dalton, should have attracted more than the announced attendance of 6,631. What you had here was a team in Marion that’s the equivalent of the 1927 New York Yankees – with 14 all-time titles (the record holder) – the dynasty of Ohio High School football, and the irresistible scenario of Goliath taking on all comers. That, for curiosity sake, alone, should have attracted more than 6,000 people. And for the fact of the visual, Dalton appeared to have as many fans (or more) in the stands than Marion did. And that’s understandable because Dalton is a 30-minute drive. Mercer County (Marion Local) is three hours away.
But a lot of people did stay home and watch, telling me they cared about who won…they just didn’t care enough to show up in person and pay twice the price for a high school football game. The sad, but true, translation: People would rather watch from home now, even a game in September. I’m willing to bet that when the Second Coming occurs…a lot of people will see if it’s on Spectrum, first!
Other attendance numbers: the Division I game (Springfield and Lakewood St. Ed…5,159)…the Division III game (Watterson and Toledo Central Catholic…4,300)…the Division IV game (Cleveland Glenville and Kettering Alter…3,662)…the Division V game (Perry and Liberty Center…5,439)
I expect to hear from you if you’re one of those who campaigns for the tournament being back in Columbus – that it’s more convenient for people to reach, thereby more people would show up. But, when you go back and look at the attendance figures for 2016 (the last year the games were held at Ohio State), the average Finals attendance for all games except the Division I game was about 6,000. So, it’s not a compelling argument, and the rental of Ohio Stadium, I suspect, is a far higher figure than Tom Benson Stadium, in Canton.
Actually, it was a better visual when they held the games (some of them) next door at Massillon and Paul Brown Stadium. Put 6,000 in there and it’s full – a great environment for high school football!
To be fair to the OHSAA, they can’t market the tournament adequately because they don’t know who’s going to be there until one week before the fact. And in modern culture, if you want people to show up you have to do more to get the word out than post something on the internet.
To be fair to the average consumer, ‘Bidenomics’, or whatever reason you cite for a $180 dollar hotel room and the accompanying cost for food and travel for the typical family of five, is a deterrent.
“It’s just too expensive to go,” is a common answer to the question of why there aren’t more people. A ticket for the state tournament is now $16 (adult), and $13 for students.
One actually said: “After Ohio State lost to Michigan I kinda’ lost interest in football.” Seriously, there are no pills you can take for that sickness. And how bad must it be in Iowa?
And to the question of a tree falling if there’s no one there to actually witness it…I asked it this way to OHSAA media director Tim Stried, a long-time acquaintance whose job it is to worry about getting the word out.
“Are the state tournaments still a crown jewel event if no one shows up to watch…if people choose to stay home and watch it on Spectrum?”
“We don’t think it’s to that point, yet,” said Stried, a good guy, who’s obviously aware. “But we’re concerned about it.”
They should be. The State Tournament is a tremendous competitive outlet for the sake of student athletes, who learn much more from their participation than they can from a textbook. This really is “what’s best for kids.”
And it used to be a great thing for the adults, too!